Redefining Success

Two weeks before 25 December 2013, I found myself without a job. Happy Christmas, Alexandra! Yours Truly, Tony Abbott. I was the latest victim of the Government’s public service recruitment freeze – a mechanism of the Coalition’s budgetary savings measures, designed to cut 12,000 federal public service jobs by the end of the financial year. The main outcome of these cuts is the obvious loss of jobs for many, but also a decline in the state’s capacity to efficiently supply essential services to the community. These services come in many forms, including the provision of social welfare, such as Centrelink payments, Medicare and essential interpreting services for non-English speaking Australians. The latter being the area I had worked in over the past twelve months.

After being reassured by supervisors that my contract would be renewed I anxiously fretted that I would be out of a job before Christmas. No confirmation of my dismissal was given on the final day of my contract. I was told not to come in the next day and that I would be called as soon as any news regarding my employment status was received. I spent the following week in a state of confusion and despair, admonishing myself for not having applied for other jobs. After a week of anguish and inner turmoil, I received a call from my supervisor, informing me that the Department was unable to extend my contract.

I was no longer gainfully employed. And I was relieved. After six years of studying, which included an undergraduate and a master’s degree, landing a job in the public service deemed me an apparent success to my friends and family; all the while I felt like a complete failure. I disliked my job. It was not intellectually challenging or stimulating. It seemed as though all of the academic hard labour I slogged away at during my years at university to maintain a first class honours grade point average had amounted to nothing. The money that came with full time work gifted me with many luxuries I had not previously enjoyed during my student days, yet it was not enough to convince me that I was actually embarking upon a meaningful and fulfilling career.

While having a well-paid job may be an earmark of success in our society, this does not necessarily equate to personal satisfaction and fulfilment. This dominant notion of success that we subscribe to is generally measured by an individual’s collection of personal achievements, including education, job, personal assets and marital status.  Therefore in order to be successful one must have multiple degrees, a high paying job, a house, a partner and annual holidays abroad. All of which is judged by others through various social medias, which enable us to announce our recent engagement via our Facebook status, tweet about our promotion on Twitter and share photos of our latest overseas holiday via Instagram. In order to be deemed successful in this day and age, one must have all achieved these miraculous feats.

Despite its perceived reality, success is merely a societal construct; an imagined belief shared by others, and is largely informed by the experiences and expectations of the Baby Boomer generation. But is the attainment of this mythical status of success, which we are all so desperately trying to achieve, relevant to Generation Y’s?  Unlike their parents, many Gen Y’s cannot imagine being locked into the one career for the rest of their lives. They are better educated and have options; too many options. Gen Y’s believe they deserve a job that is both meaningful and rewarding – in fact, they are entitled to this! Have they not been told all of their lives by parents, teachers and university academics that they can do and be whatever they want? In the attempt to achieve this elusive notion of success, Gen Y’s are perhaps ultimately cursed to a lifetime of perpetual dissatisfaction.

So where does that leave me now? Twelve months after graduating, I still have no idea about what I want to do with my life. I can reel off a long list of areas and industries that I do not wish to be involved in for the rest of my working days – namely customer service – from my experience, the general public are rude, ignorant and lacking in common sense, which apparently, is not so common these days.

On the other hand, I now have a greater understanding of what I am motivated by and issues that I am passionate about. I am interested in politics and deeply moved by human rights injustices and more specifically, the treatment of asylum seekers in Australia. I am passionate about women’s issues, gender equality, LGBTQ rights and protecting the environment. I enjoy reading and research and love to write. How then, do I take this hodgepodge of ideals, values, knowledge and skills and translate them into a rewarding and motivating career?

With increasing regularity I am told by others that nobody loves their job, that it is just a fact of life. I fundamentally reject this belief. I am not prepared to settle for mediocrity, spending 37.5 hours of every week during my short time on this earth, sitting behind a desk in a job I am not passionate about. While I cannot yet foresee the trajectory that my career will take, I have begun to make tiny inroads into this journey. Instead of subscribing to the dominant societal model of success, which focuses on status and material wealth, I have redefined my own notion to align with my passions, values and beliefs. I hope that in re-framing my personal notion of success I will discover a rewarding and meaningful way, in whatever shape or form, to make a living.

Originally published on 20 January 2014 by Aphra.

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